Thursday, November 4, 2010

Petersburg, VA , 150 years later

Today we drove about 60 miles to the  little town of Petersburg, VA which is about 30 miles south of Richmond, VA.  Petersburg's claim to fame is that it was a railroad town.   All of the rail traffic headed for Richmond passed through Petersburg..   During the Civil war, the federal forces realized that an alternative to assaulting Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy) was to starve Richmond out by taking  Petersburg.

We followed our GPS routing to get from here to there  until we were in Petersburg.  We wanted to go to the Visitor's Center and I wasn't sure we had the correct address as a destination, but we knew the general area.  However, after driving in circles a couple of times, we stopped at a tourist information site and obtained directions to the Visitor's Center.

Once we found the Visitor's Center, we showed our Golden Age pass and asked about seeing the video.  The 17 minute video was an excellent overview of what happened at Petersburg.  We then looked at the items in the museum.

Once outside, we decided to eat our lunch as we walked to one of the intact gun batteries near the museum .  The earthworks have been in place for almost 150 years and they are still in surprisingly good shape.  The highlight of the walk was a longer walk outside of the gun battery which went down behind a hill to a union gun position.

The Union gun was a huge mortar that could hurl a 225 pound shell 2 miles to the center of Petersburg.  It was apparently not that deadly, as it was reported that the town's citizen's got used to it and even after hearing the boom of the firing, they tended to ignore it.

We then drove the tour route to see where various emplacements were located.  The last stop was where Pennsylvania ex-miners in the army dug a 500 foot tunnel from the Union line to a location under the Confederate line.   The finished tunnel was then filled with gun powder in the area under the Confederate line and eventually it was detonated.  (They had a fuse problem and two volunteers had to re-enter the tunnel and see why it didn't go off.)

They located the problem, re-lite the fuse  and beat it.   The original plan was for two battalions of colored troops to rush the Confederate line immediately after the explosion.  They had been well briefed to stay out of the blast crater and rush one battalion on each side.   However, General Meade decided that there was too much risk to the assault, and  therefore he ordered that the colored troops not be used.    His concern was what the public reaction  might have been if the assault failed and the colored troops were wiped out.

So two battalions of white replacements were selected at the last minute, "they were NOT briefed other than being told to go forward after the explosion.  They were slow in charging ahead and went in using the crater for  cover.  Unfortunately, the Confederate forces regrouped fast and occupied the crater high ground and said it was like shooting  fish in a barrel.   It was not a good day for Union forces.

Back at the campground, we were both tired from walking and driving.  More later.


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